By Jason A. Smith
Jury deliberations began Monday in the trial of a Stockbridge man accused of killing his daughter. The five men and seven women on the panel discussed the case for more than five hours, and reportedly reached unanimous verdicts on three of the five counts against the defendant.
But, because they have not finished their deliberations, those verdicts are not known. The judge suspended the jury's deliberations Monday night and will resume them on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Tuesday is being skipped because of a scheduling conflict for one of the jurors.
Rodney Michael Reaves, 42, is charged in the death of 11-year-old Joella Reaves. The jury has reportedly reached decisions on the charges of malice murder, aggravated battery and cruelty to children, but must continue to discuss two counts of felony murder facing the defendant before announcing their verdict to the court.
Rodney Reaves' wife, Charlott, is charged with the same offenses, and will go to trial in April.
Prosecutors believe the couple beat Joella repeatedly in November of 2003, while the girl was tied up in her garage over a four-day period during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Attorneys for the state and the prosecution argued their respective cases during closing arguments Monday. Defense attorney Ricky Morris began the day's court proceedings by saying the state's case has been built "entirely on circumstantial evidence." He added that the jury must disprove every other reasonable explanation for Joella Reaves' death, in order to convict his client.
According to Morris, evidence presented at trial "leaves the very probable fact" that Charlott Reaves is responsible for Joella's death. The attorney disputed the prosecution's notion that Rodney Reaves acted as a party to the crime. "The state cannot prove in any way that he knew a crime was being committed," said Morris.
Morris maintained his client has an alibi for the days when the injuries, which reportedly led to Joella's death, are alleged to have occurred. According to the defense, Rodney Reaves was away on an assignment with the Navy for all but 10 days of the four months prior to Joella's death.
The lead defense attorney on the case, Public Defender Gary Bowman, continued closing arguments on Rodney Reaves' behalf. He said the Reaves case is "severe and significant," but emphasized that the prosecution is the side which has had the burden of proof during the trial.
Bowman cited an alleged lack of evidence, as well as what he said was a lack of proven motive, as reasons to acquit his client. He said Rodney Reaves is "not a violent person," but he is a man who sought custody of Joella after her birth mother passed away.
"The state wants you to believe he killed her," said Bowman. "If that's true, why did he go get her? Why did he fight for her?"
Henry County Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Wright gave closing arguments for the prosecution. He said a combination of admissions and "self-serving declarations" by the defendant, constitute proof he committed the crimes with which he is charged.
Wright said Rodney Reaves admitted to detectives he tied Joella up in the garage, and he struck her with a wooden spoon while she was restrained. "The home was a powder keg, and Joella became the fuse," he said. "By [Rodney's] admissions alone, you can find him guilty of these charges."
The prosecutor said Rodney Reaves could be convicted of the charges as a party to the crimes, because he allegedly helped Charlott Reaves inflict Joella's injuries. Wright added that the reason the defendant did not seek medical attention for the child was because he did not want anyone to suspect him of wrongdoing.
Wright referred to the state's expert witnesses, who said Joella died of complications brought by blunt-force trauma which caused more than 100 injuries. "What killed this child, was a combination of beatings and being tied up repeatedly," he continued. "It was not a scrape. It was not Joella's fault, and it was a beating."
Rodney Reaves shook his head and rubbed tears away from his eyes as Wright spoke about the defendant's alleged actions.
Evidence presented in the case indicates that Joella had been forced to write repeated lines calling herself a liar and a thief, as punishment for alleged thefts she had committed. In his closing, Wright disputed earlier statements made by the defendant by saying Joella's last writings contained 794 lines of text. "[Rodney Reaves] said she would not write her lines," said Wright. "Joella had gotten up to 794. She was doing what she was told to do."
At the conclusion of Wright's remarks, deputies led the jury out of Judge Wade Crumbley's courtroom, and prepared to do the same for the defendant, who sat motionless at the defense table. When he stood up, he immediately pointed at Wright and called him a liar.
Reaves could still be heard yelling, as authorities took him to a holding cell at the courthouse.